Skepticism Helps You Avoid Surprises


I hope you have read yesterday’s post and followed the links. You can learn to be skeptical, but it requires the ability to carry a thought in your mind without assigning a truth value to it. That’s not so easy. Eventually, you will have a filing system that falls into three sections.

  1. Almost certainly false,
  2. Almost certainly true, and
  3. Undecided.

The cynics and the faithful have only two. The undecided group will have many value assignments. From trending true to trending false. The difficulty is in deciding the value of the material in the undecided files.

Simplifying the problem

It’s often about who you trust.

During the Covid drama, almost every governmental agency and department have destroyed their right to be taken seriously. I think the department of weights and measures is still reliable, but naming the second is challenging.

Many non-governmental agencies, like medical associations, the courts, universities, the media, and some businesses, have lost the trust of the public because they too have claimed things to be true on many subjects without showing their work. When, often much later, the result appears, they are shown to be wrong. They could retain some credibility if they acknowledged their error, explained how it occurred, and how they intend to see that similar errors do not recur. A second such failure dismisses them from any future consideration.

Your defence, when things are unclear, relies on three factors.

  1. Has the person who offers the “truth” been a reliable reporter in the past?
  2. Are there others who offer a contrary opinion?
  3. Who, if either, is offering objective evidence and an explanation of how they think about the evidence?

A good skeptic uses “compare and contrast” to reach their assessments.

Compare and contrast

A point to consider. I believe in the idea of science, government, courts, police, media, professional governing bodies, and universities seeking knowledge and truth. I do not believe any of the people who claim their position in those institutions automatically means they are credible.

The clear conclusion it is the people who are the problem. The institutions all have value if run properly.

Have you heard, “Trust the science.” It is an idea so at odds with what science is about as to make anyone who says it becomes instantly non-credible. Science is about challenging orthodoxy, not about trusting it. Your position does not make you automatically credible unless your reputation is untainted by external biases and you produce your reasons.

Trusting anyone is foolish if they cannot or will not supply their reasoning and the objective facts they rely on.

The flaws we saw every day

“Argument from Authority” is flawed. It is flawed because authority figures are not universally and always right. The presentations that used this method around Covid, seem to show that such arguments are nearly always wrong or, to be generous, unintentionally misleading. if you believe “unintentionally misleading,” you should work on your skeptical skills.

Mistrust anyone who suppresses contrary information. Suppression of the contrary thought is a form of lying. It merely hides that you are lying. Someone who lies 5% of the time does not have 95% credibility. They have no credibility at all. Listening to these people leaves you stupider than you were before you listened to them.

What’s difficult?

You must work before you file anything as true or not true. None of us have the time to fully understand the problems society faces today. Even well-educated and experienced people disagree on the meaning of climate change. Epidemics, inflation, racial issues, historical wrongs, job growth, the potential effects of AI, population growth, education policy and delivery, tax policy, international hegemony, and a dozen more would be difficult to understand even if studied in isolation by skilled people. What chance do we have?

To make things worse, most of these questions overlap. It is impossible to separate climate change from tax policy, inflation, job growth, and AI. You need people who summarize their facts and their reasoning. You’ll need to go looking for it, though. The media seldom supplies any evidence or thinking.

Your task

You can frequently find where you should look by noticing what the government and the media are attacking. You might pick the Great Barrington Declaration as such an example. Having hindsight, you could ask who had it more right. The independent scientists, or the media and government officials? That should lead you to questions.

  1. Who is more likely to be reliable in future?
  2. Why would there be interest in reapplying actions that were likely errors?
  3. Is the apparently wrong approach helpful to the presenter in some context beyond its subject matter?

You would still know very little about Covid, but you would have insight into the way decision-makers think. That alone is useful.

The bits to take away

The world is complicated, and you must spend some time and effort to even minimally understand it.

Holding an opinion that someone else has given you is dangerous.

Have everyone in authority show their work or ignore them.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

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